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Archive for July, 2011

 

I’m quite pleased with the colour and clarity, although the photo doesn’t show just how clear it is. The melomel has a strong strawberry flavour, but it isn’t particularly sweet. I have moved the bottle to the basement, where it will sit for the next six months. I will rack it a few times to increase clarity. At the end of January, I will rack it into bottles, then put them away until Kingdom A&S in November 2014.

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Brined Pickles

Brine curing is a very old form of food preservation, with archaeological evidence from several thousand years ago in Egypt and later in Rome. Brine pickle recipes seem to range from a 10 percent brine solution down to 2.5 percent. I decided to go with a 10 percent brine as it didn’t involve any other ingredients, and it came with the splendid instruction “Brine in which a fresh egg floats is approximately 10 percent“. I used the alternate instruction of 2 cups salt dissolved in 4 quarts of water, which was enough to completely cover my 6 pounds of cucumbers with lots of liquid on top.

Here are the cucumbers with half the brine. I could easily have made five times the pickles in this lovely Medalta crock. It holds six imperial gallons, which would translate to about 36 lb of cucumbers, if I don’t leave space for bubbling brine!

My Dad cut me a piece of wood that just fits inside the crock. I have wrapped the wood in plastic, then set it on top of the cucumbers, and weighed it down with a large canning jar filled with water. 

Tomorrow, I will add a little over a cup of salt, in order to maintain the 10 percent brine solution. Over the next few weeks, I will remove scum when it forms on top of the brine, and add 1/4 c of salt at the end of each week. In two to four weeks, fermentation will end and I will pickle the brined cucumbers. I could leave them in the crock until ready to use, but I want the crock free to make sauerkraut when the fall cabbages come available.

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Strawberry Melomel and Beer

I bottled the beer from my kit tonight. It seems okay. I admit it’s not a great A&S challenge, but it did get rid of a bunch of PET beer bottles from my basement. I’m not sure that I’ll ever get to the point of brewing my own beers from mashes I figure out for myself (or fancy recipes). I just don’t drink enough beer to justify all the effort. I would be more tempted by wines, but even that is likely to be from a kit.

The mead, on the other hand, is lots of fun and I can find small batch recipes.  I think the strawberry melomel will be ready to go into bottles tomorrow night.

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From A Book of Fruits and Flowers (1656):

Pare a good quantity of the rindes of cucumbers, and boyle them in a quart of running wate, and a pint of wine Vineger, and a handfull of salt, till they be soft, then letting them stand till the liquor be quite cold, pour out the liquor from the rinds into some little barrell, earthen pot, or other vessel, that may be close stopped and put as many of the youngest Cucumbers you can gather therein, as the liquor will cover, and so keep them close covered, that no wind come to them, to use all the year till they have new; if your Cucumbers be great, tis best to boyle them in the liquor till they be soft.

I only had about 3 lb of cucumbers, so I didn’t want to try doing a traditional fermented pickle in my awesome 6 gallon pickle jar. Instead, I decided to see what I could do that was similar to the recipe above. I found the recipe “Dill Pickles by the Quart” in Pickles & Relishes by Andrea Chesman:

  • 1 quart (1 1/2 lb) pickling cucumbers
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 red hot pepper, dried
  • 1 tablespoon pickling salt
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 (or more) fresh dill heads
  • boiling water

Wash the cucumbers and pack into a hot, sterilized quart jar. add the garlic, pepper, salt, vinegar and dill. Cover with boiling water, seal. Store in the refrigerator. These pickles are ready to eat in 6 weeks.

I substituted horseradish from my garden for the hot pepper. The horseradish will add some hotness to the pickles, and a slight crisping quality.The dill heads also came from my garden. As all my wide-mouthed jars hold only half a litre, I ended up halving each recipe and repeating it six times. It’s important to cut the flower end off of cucumbers when pickling, as there are enzymes that interfere with the pickling process.

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Technically, this is not a medieval or renaissance recipe, but I haven’t found a pre-1600 strawberry preserves recipe yet (though I did find a strawberry pie recipe in the 1656 Book of Fruits and Flowers). The closest I have found is “To make conserve of cheries, and other fruites” in The Second Part of the Good Hus-wives Jewell by Thomas Dawson, first published in 1597:

Take halfe a pound of Cherries, & boile them dry in their own licour, and then straine them through a Hearne rale, and when you have strained them, put in two pounde of fine beaten Suger, and boyle them together a prety while, and then put your Conserve in a pot.

The recipe I used is from “Fine Preserving” by Catherine Plagemann (1967):

Hull and wash 2 quarts of perfect, not overripe strawberries (about 4 cups). Add 89 cups of granulated sugar and 4 tablespoons of lemon juice. Mix all gently so as not to cut or crush the fruit – hands are b est for this. Allow the fruit and sugar to stand in a nonmetallic bowl for 3 hours or so to draw out the juice. Then put the mixture into a large kettle. Cook at a rolling boil for 15 minutes and skim off the scum that will form.

Pour the boiled preserves into a nonmetallic bowl and cover it. Let it stay there until the next day. Stir it gently from time to time, to plump up the berries and counteract their tendency to float to the top.

After it is as this as you like it, put it into jars and seal with 2 thin coats of paraffin and a lid. You will have about 8 8-ounce glasses of preserves.

Because I foolishly started the preserves at night, and then had a commitment most of today, they ended up sitting longer than I would have liked, and thickened up a bit too much for my taste. I ended up with only 6 1/2 cups of preserves.  However, I did get a lovely colour and flavour.

I note that the proportions of fruit and sugar are similar to those in Dawson’s cherry conserve recipe and the basic method is similar (aside from the boiling out to release juices, rather than getting the sugar to absorb it). It is also very similar to Dawson’s conserve of violets, which I made earlier this spring. It called for pounding the petals with a little sugar, then bringing an equal weight of sugar to a boil and adding the petals, then cool before putting it into pots.

At the time I made the violet conserve, I wasn’t happy with the results (the jar is on the left in the photo above). Having done the strawberries, I now realize I needed to boil the sugar more, so that it turned truly liquid, before adding the violets. Now I know what to do for next year.

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I have been picking away at the lacemaking, have spun some wool and started naalbinding legs on a pair of short socks at the request of the owner, and yesterday I started a batch of beer (from a kit, but it’s a start) and strawberry melomel. The melomel is a lovely red colour. Pictures will follow shortly.

The strawberry melomel recipe was relatively easy to follow, despite one error. The ingredient list called for 2 1/4 lb of honey, but the instructions only used one 1lb for the first half of the must; there was no mention of the rest of the honey anywhere. I guessed and added the remaining honey to the second half of the must.

Tomorrow I must buy a one gallon carboy, as all of mine are too big for the small quantities I am making right now.  I will also look for ingredients for a lemon melomel. I found my friend Baldric’s recipe from many years ago and look forward to trying it.

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